More people than ever taking third level arts and heritage qualifications and the question of what to do after graduation is no longer a decision that can be put off. It is a time of mass youth unemployment as the country struggles out of recession; making it increasingly difficult for graduates to successfully navigate the move from education to work.
Internships are one possible solution, one that the Irish government have jumped on. The government have created and funded the Job Bridge scheme which provides 8,500 6 – 9 month work placements in a wide variety of industries. The scheme claims to bridge the gap between study and work by providing relevant work experience which will advance graduates opportunities in the job market. In an environment of high youth unemployment, and in turn increasing youth emigration, it is clear that there is a problem in getting onto the work ladder. Further to this many are trapped in a cycle of low paid, dead end jobs that are often part time, temporary or even on 0 hour contracts.
However Job Bridge does not seem to be the ideal solution that it was intended to be. If you dig beneath the surface there are several key failings in the scheme. Focussing on the arts and heritage sectors: the first complaint with the Job Bridge scheme is that it is only for those who have been unemployed for three months or longer and are in receipt of at least one form of benefit. Although there is obviously nothing wrong with this it does not sit well with those who have left college or University and found a job, even if it is not relevant to their desired career path but that pays the bills.
Finding work at the moment is hard, very hard, but if someone has left study and taken any job that they can get; cleaning, working in a warehouse, stacking shelves or taking and casual and temporary work that they can, how are they supposed to gain useful work experience, whilst working, which will help on their desired career path? This leads on to the second issue with the scheme. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find valuable work experience. Most museums, galleries and heritage sites offer volunteering opportunities however most of it is customer service based. Finding work experience that is relevant if you want to become say, an archivist or curator, is near impossible.
Especially if you are still studying or working and cannot commit yourself full time to often unpaid or low paid work experience. Arguably this scheme is making it harder for many to gain this experience as businesses are using Job Bridge interns to circumnavigate taking on new employees. They are gaining an employee without the financial burden of paying them. Why would a business take on a new employee when they could just keep using the free labour of interns?
This is particularly significant where you remember that many heritage sites outside of the capital are struggling financially and in order to work around this are attempting to use volunteers as much as possible in the creation of new exhibits and the front of house work that could be done by paid employees. This leads onto the biggest complaint with the scheme, which is the low numbers of Job Bridge interns who have moved onto full time paid work after successfully completing an internship.
Figures vary according to the different industries and employers that have taken advantage of the scheme however Joan Burton, Minister for Social Protection claimed that on 9 May 2012 that 38% of Job Bridge interns went onto full time employment. However this figure is hotly debated and a breakdown of the statistics can be found on www.scambridge.ie. This popular website has been set up as a result of the many frustrations young people who have participated in the scheme.
Their testimonies make interesting reading which the government should pay attention to if it intends to continue the scheme in its current form. How can the Job Bridge scheme continue as it is, taking advantage of the unemployed as free labour, ripe for exploitation? Well established heritage sights such as Christ Church Cathedral and the National Gallery currently provide internships through Job Bridge, primarily one imagines because the interns are ‘paid’ by the government (and in turn the tax payer) and not the company themselves. As unemployment figures remain unacceptably high, particularly amongst the young, it looks as though this scheme is trying to get volunteers to do the work that should be done by paid employees.
Is this scheme just another form of low paid labour designed to help out the businesses while massaging unemployment statistics for a government that is struggling with the fallout from the recession. Politicians, such as the Paul Murphy of the Socialist Party and MEP for Dublin have realised the shortcomings in the scheme and are pushing for it to be scrapped and replaced with job creating investment that will provide real work opportunities. Whether this will happen and how successful it would be is something that we cannot yet guess at, however criticisms are increasing and the evidence is looking pretty damning.